Sweet Liberty (1986)

screenshot from Sweet Liberty

Directed by: Alan Alda
Screenwriter(s): Alan Alda
Starring: Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bob Hoskins, Lise Hilboldt, Lillian Gish, Saul Rubinek, Lois Chiles, Linda Thorson
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 46m
Rating: 6 out of 10

In Sweet Liberty, Alan Alda plays a college history professor whose factually-based historical novel has been bought by Hollywood and is being turned into a bodice-ripper starring two huge stars: the egotistical lothario Elliot James (Caine) and the seemingly airheaded and flirtatious, Faith Healy (Pfieffer).

The film is actually a gently satirical look at Hollywood excesses, told from Alda’s perspective. Given that he’s the writer-director-star, it’s his vision in every sense. His character becomes increasingly exasperated as his source novel gets mauled beyond all recognition by the scriptwriter (Bob Hoskins) and the director (Saul Rubineck). Meanwhile, both stars are still whining for more screen time for their own characters.

The whole cast seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, not least of whom is Sir Michael, chewing the scenery as the ageing lothario who tries to bed every woman in the cast, crew and the small New England town where Alda lives. His performance is a sheer delight, oozing greasy charm from every pore.

There are quite a few stand-out moments in the film – mostly involving Elliot and none funnier than the rollercoaster scene – but Alda gives us too many plots to cope with all at once and not enough of Mike, who, along with Pfieffer, is the real stand-out in this movie. In comparison, it’s hard to feel sympathy for Alda’s college tutor girlfriend (Hilboldt) as she sees her man being smitten by Pfieffer, given that the girlfriend role is so drab and uninvolving it amounts to little more than a cameo. Much the same can be said for quite a few of the characters.

Poking gentle fun at Hollywood is pleasant enough, but Alda’s aiming for such easy targets that it’s like shooting fish in a barrell. Tighter editing and a bit more bite in the satire would have made for a better film.

Other films also starring Bob Hoskins